The Northwestern Wildcats and the Indiana Hoosiers met in the 2nd round of the Big Ten Tournament with Indiana's NCAA Tournament hopes on the line. The Wildcats have played good basketball of late and won 5 of their last 7 games. The Hoosiers entered this one heading in the opposite direction. Over a month ago Indiana was a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but things change when you lose 8 of your last 12 games.
Indiana took control of this game right from the opening tip. The Hoosiers opened up with a 24-6 run to start the game off and went into the locker-room up by 14. Northwestern kept fighting and was able to cut the lead to 11, but they weren't able to get any closer than that. The Hoosiers were too much to handle and won 71-56.
So what did we learn?
What We Learned
Tom Crean has a little more job security, but not much
If Indiana had lost to Northwestern for the second time this season, it's hard to say if Tom Crean's job would have been safe for next year. Fortunately for him, he was able to rally his team and pick up the much needed win. He may not be off the hot seat yet, but this win certainly helps.
Northwestern wasn't big enough to play with Indiana inside
The Wildcats had similar numbers to Indiana in nearly every category, except rebounding. The Hoosiers killed them on the boards and finished with 20 offensive rebounds. You can't afford to get beat like that down low when you're the underdog. Indiana's ability to get the offensive rebounds was the difference maker against Northwestern.
James Blackmon Jr. can step up in big time games
The freshman performed very well given the circumstances and finished with 25 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds on Thursday evening. He kick-started the offense by scoring or assisting on 9 of the Hoosier's 14 made field goals in the first half. Blackmon came up big in arguably the biggest game of the season for the Hoosiers.
Northwestern has nothing to hang their heads about
While they weren't able to pull out the win on Thursday evening, they showed us that this program is going in the right direction. They finished the Big Ten season strong, and proved with those wins that they can be competitive in the Big Ten. Northwestern has a bright future in front of them. Chris Collins is taking the program in the right direction.
Indiana's NCAA Tournament hopes are still alive
This was a must win for Indiana. It's hard to say if this win alone puts them in the tournament, but a good showing against Maryland on Friday would also help. We'll see how things play out for the Hoosiers.
Northwestern had a good end to the season, even though they weren't able to pull out the win on Thursday night. They will look to carry the momentum they gained from the end of the Big Ten season into next year.
Indiana's hopes of making the Big Dance are still alive. We'll see how they do Friday against Maryland. That could determine if they are NCAA Tournament bound.